A day after Occupy Columbia protesters returned to the Statehouse, South Carolina legislators debated a bill that would ban camping on the grounds. A House committee passed the camping ban unanimously Thursday. It now goes to the House floor.
Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester) said it was an issue of health and safety. “It’s never been appropriate before and we’ve never had to regulate it before,” he told the House Judiciary Committee.
The Budget and Control Board banned camping and sleeping at the Statehouse through emergency regulations back in December, but those temporary regulations have now expired after 90 days. House lawmakers now want to make the ban permanent, voting to pass the legislation on to the full House. It cleared the Senate last week.
Three members of Occupy Columbia were at the meeting. Walid Hakim said the group was being targeted because of its message.
“I can understand they don’t want any liability and they don’t want any security threats, but there weren’t any problems,” Hakim said after the meeting, “This wasn’t about anyone getting hurt or us destroying property. It was about them not caring for our message.”
But Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) insists it’s not about message. “Having a protest and just standing up all night waving a sign, those are things that are protests in my mind,” he said, “But taking up residency on the Statehouse grounds isn’t a protest to me.”
A person violating the ban would face a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
House leaders are rushing to pass the bill quickly. Thursday’s meeting came only three hours after a subcommittee met to hear from the public. Traditionally, there is a week between such meetings. It passed the Senate last week.
Due to the legislative process, the bill is not likely to become law for at least another week– no matter how quickly House leaders try to bring it to a vote.
Hakim called the Legislature “incompetent” for seeming to forget about the emergency regulations until the time came for those regs to expire. “They were so against us coming out here… and when they had the opportunity to put into legislation that we could not return, they failed to do that.”
He said protesters will make good use of the extra time they were granted.
“There’s a lot going to be coming,” he said, “Especially with this week that they’ve given us on a silver platter, it’s going to give us an opportunity to re-gather and reorganize and perhaps be a little bit more effective this time around.”